The answer to the question; can hypnotherapy help with anxiety could normally be very honestly answered with a definite ‘Yes’, but like most things, it’s not quite as simple as we would like.
In addition to giving you an answer to the above question, this article will help you find the answer to the queries;
- What is hypnotherapy?
- What is hypnosis?
- Why do we create anxiety?
- What is solution-focused hypnotherapy?
- What is anxiety?
- Why is solution-focused hypnotherapy so effective in treating all types of anxiety?
- How many hypnotherapy sessions for anxiety?
- What is online hypnotherapy?
So you are probably still wondering can hypnotherapy help with anxiety. The answer really depends on the type of hypnotherapy that is being referred to. There is a vast array of hypnotherapy available including; Eriksonian Hypnotherapy, Suggestion Hypnotherapy and Hypno-psychotherapy.
If you were attending sessions for past life regression and hoping for suggestions on how you could relieve your anxiety and make positive changes to your future, then you are likely to come away very underwhelmed and disappointed. In this instance, the answer to, can hypnotherapy help with anxiety would have been negative.
You would be much more suited to using solution focused hypnotherapy. Not only is this very outcome and future-focused but it is also highly adaptable. It can help people with any type of anxiety to stop their negative thought processes and look forward to enjoying life. In this instance, the answer would be a resounding yes. Solution-focused hypnotherapy can definitely help with anxiety.
So what is hypnotherapy?
Hypnotherapy is a form of complementary and alternative therapy that uses hypnosis/trance to bring about change. What that change is will obviously be dependent on the desires of the person seeking therapy. It can help people to overcome a range of health conditions. This is very different to what you may have seen in ‘stage hypnosis’, where a volunteer appears to be carrying out the requests of a hypnotist for others’ enjoyment.
If we look at this particular situation we can see that the only person who doesn’t benefit is actually the volunteer. The audience receives entertainment and the stage hypnotist receives payment and no doubt a big ego boost. When using hypnotherapy, there is no stage show or outside involvement. The hypnotherapist and client build up a one to one relationship in order to help the client reach their goals.
What is hypnosis?
You will probably have heard of both the terms hypnosis and trance. They can really be thought of as being interchangeable, as they both describe a time when we experience a shift in our conscious awareness.
It’s often described as being in a daydream. It’s a deeply relaxed state. So when you gaze out of the window, apparently thinking about nothing, you have gone into trance. It’s thought that we go into trance roughly every 6 to 7 minutes throughout our waking hours.
Hypnosis is really a problem-solving. This state allows different parts of your mind to communicate with each other enabling them to come up with solutions. Your brain can only do this when you’re relaxed. You can probably recall a time when you’ve struggled to remember a particular name.
While you’re consciously thinking about it ‘racking your brains’ you just can’t remember it. It’s only later in the day when you’re relaxed and not focused on it, that the name pops into your head. In this instance in order to find the solution, you needed to be a) not consciously thinking about it and b) in a calm relaxed state.
Are trance and sleep similar?
When you’re awake and especially if you are stressed and anxious the beta waves in your brain will be dominant. In order to visualise and problem solve it’s necessary for your brain to produce fewer beta waves and more alpha and theta waves. When you’re in trance that’s exactly what happens.
This is just like you do each night when sleeping. It’s no coincidence that most languages in the world have a version of our ‘sleep on it’, to describe the amazing ability of sleep to remove emotion and help solve our problems.
This is why hypnotherapy can be so beneficial as it allows you to relax. It enables you can to spend more time with your brain in its problem-solving state.
What is solution-focused hypnotherapy?
Solution-focused hypnotherapy is a modern type of clinical hypnotherapy that uses a mixture of psychotherapy (talking therapy) and hypnosis. This combination enables clients to find solutions to their problems during their hypnosis sessions. It is focused on helping clients to visualise and work towards their preferred future. A time when they are free from the symptoms of the debilitating condition that they sought help for.
It allows people to create a picture in their minds of how they would like to think, feel and act in the future. The fundamental belief of all solution focused hypnotherapists is that their clients have the skills and resources within themselves to solve their own problems. We believe you just need help to get your brain in the right condition. Allowing it to work for you, instead of against you.
During therapy using future-focused questioning allows people to build up a picture in their minds of how they would like their life to be. Hypnosis enables the brain to find the right conditions in order to problem solve and help to make this vision possible.
Finding the solutions
You might think of the process of solution-focused hypnotherapy as completing a jigsaw. Imagine a wonderful time in your future when you have gained freedom from your anxiety so that you can enjoy all your life has to offer. What would enjoy the most? Who would you be with and where would you be?
Now take a snapshot of that moment in your mind. That’s going to form the picture on the top of the box, the solution you want to find. When using only conscious thought that picture is probably a little hazy and not that clear.
During solution-focused questioning, you are assembling the pieces of the jigsaw. You might gather all the edges as you know they have to have a straight side and you might start to group the other pieces together. You have an idea of what the image might be and a real desire to achieve it but it’s not really clear. Therefore your conscious mind just isn’t capable of showing you the solution.
You can only really clearly see this image when you’re relaxed. When your usually dominant beta brain waves have been replaced by your problem-solving alpha and theta ones.
It’s only during hypnosis when you are in a trance state that you can fully see the image with great clarity. So now you can set to work to start to assemble the jigsaw. Over a series of hypnotherapy sessions, week by week you complete the jigsaw. This allows you to become the happy, confident and content person you pictured, free from anxiety and able to live life to the full.
Why do we create anxiety?
In its simplest form anxiety is a primitive stress response that is designed to keep us safe. Its origins lie within our primitive brain. Our primitive brain is the original part of our brain.
It looks out for our survival, as such it’s a very negative threat-based brain. The centre of this brain is the amygdala. It works alongside other primitive parts of our brain to engage our stress response.
If we feel threatened our bodies will produce stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These will increase our heart and breathing rate which increases blood flow to our muscles. This gives us the ability to either fight or run from the perceived threat.
The effect of anxiety on our thinking
When you are stressed or anxious your thinking comes from your primitive brain. It doesn’t have to be one major event to cause you to think from your primitive mind. It’s more common for stress and anxiety to build up gradually over a period of time. The more anxious you are then the more your thinking comes from the primitive mind. You are then less able to think from the intellectual part of your brain.
If our ancestors felt threatened by a sabre-toothed tiger, they wouldn’t have activated the logical part of their brain. They didn’t have time to wonder if it had eaten, or if they could somehow outwit it. Instead, they would just have reacted with emotion. Their fight/ flight mode would have been instantly activated to improve their chances of survival.
The primitive brain’s downfall
One of the major problems with thinking from the primitive brain is that it can’t be innovative. It has to look out for previous patterns of behaviour. So if for example you felt stressed and ate chocolate, then the next time you are stressed you will more than likely find yourself reaching for a chocolate bar.
Over a period of time, through repetition, this becomes a habit. Without conscious thought, your go-to response for dealing with stress becomes reaching for chocolate. If you were to think from your intellectual brain you might choose to try an alternative such as; reading a book or going for a walk
It’s also obsessional. Once your primitive brain has latched onto a belief it will remind you of it regularly. Your primitive brain is trying to keep you safe, but it is said to have the rationale and intelligence of a 4-5-year-old child. It, therefore. very often tries to protect you from the most random things.
In addition, it’s always on red alert scanning for the next thing to try and protect you from. Or more accurately worry about. This usually leads to feelings of overwhelm as the process of catastrophizing becomes a constant companion. Very often a small negative thought can lead to a snowballing effect. Before long the little molehill has turned into a huge mountain that is thought can never be shifted.
So what creates anxiety?
Anxiety is caused by our thoughts and worries. It’s not the events in our lives that cause anxiety but our thoughts surrounding them. For many people going out to meet their friends for lunch is something to look forward to. For people with social anxiety, this usually isn’t the case. Days or even weeks before the event they usually start to worry about what might go wrong and how others might judge them.
If the rest of the group perceives the occasion to be something to look forward to, their thoughts surrounding the event are positive. In this instance, no anxiety has been created. However, for the person with social anxiety, the negative thoughts surrounding the event have created anxiety.
Imagination and reality, is it the same?
Our brains can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality. This means that the way we think about something affects the way our brain responds and what hormones are produced. Our thoughts govern our emotions.
This process is like going to the Doctor’s. You tell your doctor what is wrong with you and then after careful consideration, they will write you a prescription. You take this prescription to the pharmacist who will give you the exact drugs that were ordered. The pharmacist will only deliver the drugs that were ordered, much the same way as your brain will only deliver the hormones you order.
If you are thinking negative thoughts surrounding an event in your life, then as far as your brain is concerned you may as well be fighting a sabre-toothed tiger. You’ll be delivered an abundance of stress hormones, as you’ve engaged your fight/ flight response.
You’ll probably be familiar with the feelings of being jittery and on edge due to an oversupply of stress hormones. At least if you were fighting a sabre-toothed tiger you would make use of the stress hormones. They’d help to increase your breathing and heart rate, giving you an increased ability to run further and faster.
When they’re produced as a result of our thoughts, they take an age to disperse, leaving you to feel anxious over a sustained period of time.
Our stress bucket
So what happens to all these negative thoughts? They get stored in a ‘stress bucket’. This is actually a part of your brain called the hippocampus. Each negative thought you have gets placed in it. So if you’ve worried 50 times about that lunch date, that’s 50 things that have entered your bucket. If you’re also worrying about other aspects of your life, your buckets going to get very full quite rapidly. When it gets too full you may suffer from a panic attack.
Thankfully we have a natural way of emptying this bucket each night. During our REM sleep, we turn each memory from being emotional to a narrative one, one that we can have control over. Our REM sleep takes the emotion out of the memory. If for instance you’ve had a disagreement with someone from work and you’ve gone to bed thinking about it, you might have found it quite hard to go to sleep.
However, when you wake up in the morning you may well have forgotten about the incident or be able to think about it more logically.
REM sleep, our saviour!
So you might think that if there is a way of emptying your bucket then it doesn’t matter how much you fill it each day. Unfortunately, REM only accounts for approximately 20% of your sleep. If you’ve got too much in your bucket, your mind will wake you up at around 3 or 4 in the morning. You can’t generate enough REM sleep so your mind isn’t able to move you into your next Non-REM sleep stage.
You may well be familiar with this. It then really doesn’t take that long to fill up your bucket again and so the cycle of anxiety continues.
How does solution-focused hypnotherapy help with anxiety?
Solution-focused hypnotherapy is based on neuroscience. This makes it particularly effective when dealing with anxiety, as it helps to replicate the way your brain works when it’s functioning well. It is very outcome-focused. It uses your brain’s ability to change to help you build up new positive pathways in your brain.
By using solution-focused hypnotherapy it’s quite possible to change your way of thinking in just a few weeks. Probably you have probably heard of the adage ‘You are what you eat’ but equally true could be the saying ‘You are what you think’.
Positive thinking becomes the norm
If you focus on the more negative aspects of your life, you will tend to have low levels of self-confidence and self-esteem. Through repetition, you’ve actually conditioned your brain to think this way. You weren’t born with anxiety, but now you find yourself measuring things by what might go wrong.
If, however you focus on the more positive aspects of your life you can start to think about your future quite differently. Instead of thinking of a glass as being half empty, you start to build up positive pathways in your brain. This means you start to think more optimistically about the future. In a matter of weeks, you may start to think of the glass as being half full. As a result your levels of self-confidence and self-esteem naturally rise.
Solution-focused hypnotherapy enables you to change your way of thinking so you adopt a much more positive outlook. Instead of creating an abundance of stress hormones instead, you increase your levels of serotonin. This helps your brain to achieve homeostasis. You don’t create anxiety when you think positively so fewer thoughts enter your stress bucket. It is therefore very good at reducing anxiety.
How does hypnosis help?
During the light trance state used in Solution Focused Hypnotherapy, your brain builds new positive pathways and takes the negative emotional edge of older memories.
By mimicking your REM state, hypnosis allows you to empty your stress bucket more quickly. Due to the effectiveness of hypnosis, it enables your brain to shut off your supply of noradrenaline, one of your body’s main stress chemicals. You will come back to full consciousness feeling both calm and relaxed.
In a relatively short period of time, solution-focused hypnotherapy can enable you to gain freedom from your anxiety by a) stopping as many negative thoughts going into your stress bucket and b) giving you extra bucket emptying REM time.
Can hypnotherapy help with anxiety?
So what happens when your stress bucket is empty? In a matter of weeks when your stress bucket is empty, you will be able to think from your intellectual mind instead of your primitive mind. There is no anxiety in your intellectual mind. This is the logical, rational, problem-solving part of your brain.
No matter what type of anxiety you were suffering from; you are able to gain freedom from it, as you have changed the area of your brain that drives your thinking. The symptoms of anxiety are greatly reduced leading to a beneficial effect on both physical and mental health
Hopefully, you have now found the answer to the question; can hypnotherapy help with anxiety? If it’s the right type of hypnotherapy, then yes most definitely. It can help suffers from the debilitating effects of OCD, PTSD, disordered eating, phobias, traumas, generalised anxiety disorder and all other forms of anxiety.
Can Solution Focused Hypnotherapy be carried out online?
One of the major benefits of solution-focused hypnotherapy is that it can be carried out via Zoom or any other online communication platform. The therapy can actually be more beneficial when you are in your own familiar surroundings as you may find it easier to enter a trance state.
If you would like to find out more about the benefits of online hypnotherapy, please use this link
How many hypnotherapy sessions for anxiety?
The number of sessions you need to achieve freedom from your anxiety may be different to others. There are different variables that come into consideration, these include; the length of time that you have had anxiety, the type of anxiety you have (OCD treatment tends to take longer) and how committed you are to your therapy.
With Solution Focused Hypnotherapy we are always focused on your preferred future. This is where you imagine you would want to be when all the problems you came to see me for have vanished. Obviously, this is very individual and therefore the number of sessions needed to achieve this can differ between clients. However, it is very typical for people to enjoy freedom from their anxiety in just 6 sessions.
I hope you have enjoyed reading my article; Can hypnotherapy help with anxiety?
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Author: Ian Murton HPD DSFH AfSFH Reg NCH Reg CNHC Reg is an award-winning Solution Focused Hypnotherapist and an approved Anxiety UK therapist running sessions via Zoom from his home on the Bedfordshire/ Hertfordshire border. If you feel that you would benefit from hypnotherapy after reading this article please do not hesitate to get in touch. I look forward to helping you move forward with your life.